Carnegie Hall New York City
Top Story


The illumination of the historic facade of Carnegie Hall, New York City/US.

Designed by architect William Burnet Tuthill and built by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1891, the prestigious venue for both classical and popular music is located two blocks south of Central Park on Seventh Avenue in New York City. In 1987–1989, a 60-floor office tower, named Carnegie Hall Tower, designed by César Pelli & Associates, was built next to the hall on the same block, and in 2014, Carnegie Hall opened its Judith and Burton Resnick Education Wing, which houses 24 music rooms, one of which is large enough to hold an orchestra or a choir. The facade lighting focuses on the original building and literally underlines the neo-renaissance architecture that was so popular at the time is was built, celebrating every tiny detail to bring out the quality of this legendary structure.

Carnegie Hall is one of the last large buildings in New York built entirely of masonry, without a steel frame. When several flights of studio spaces were added to the building around the turn of the 20th century, a steel framework was erected around segments of the building. The exterior is rendered in narrow Roman bricks of a mellow ochre hue, with details in terracotta and brownstone.

The Carnegie Hall facade lighting project was begun in 2008. The historic, iconic building had never been properly illuminated before and posed a number of challenges for the lighting designers from Kugler Ning who were commissioned to design the lighting, in preparation for the building’s 125th Anniversary Season. They began by creating some renderings and evaluation studies to pinpoint key features which, when illuminated, would visually connect the three idiosyncratic facades. The facade lighting design concept was completed in 2011, with the knowledge that implementation would take another three years. With LED technology advancing at the rapid pace it was, the lighting designers were well aware that the infrastructure they were designing had to be futureproof. The dimming controls specified needed to harmonise with the advancing LED technology.

Given that Carnegie Hall is a National Historic Landmark, vigilant study and documentation was required to ensure all penetrations and mounting supports occurred at reparable locations. As an existing building that had evolved programmatically over 125 years, areas where penetrations were permitted were not always easily accessible, and locations where the designers proposed mounting fixtures frequently proved not to be structurally sound. Added to that, Carnegie Hall’s "good neighbour policy" required that optics and shielding, which needed to comply with landmark stipulations, were to be applied to avoid light spill and trespass to adjacent buildings.

Extensive onsite mockups were conducted to review LED distribution, output, mounting methods and sightlines. Over 130 feet (over 40 metres) of linear LEDs were temporarily installed in 13 locations on two facades. The lighting designers opted for warm white LEDs (2700K) to accentuate and blend the three primary materials: iron spot brick, terracotta and painted metal. All tests were carried out between midnight and 6 o’clock to reduce attracting public attention to the project in progress.

Once the defined scheme was installed, the lighting was programmed to come on slowly, ensuring the facade is balanced and legible. Or as Richard Malenka from Carnegie Hall aptly described it on the opening: "As the sun sets the lighting comes on gradually creating a seamless transition from twilight to nighttime".

Besides the countless classical music concerts that have delighted audiences in Carnegie Hall for over a century, many jazz, pop and rock'n'roll stars have also given memorable performances there including Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Harry Belafonte, Ike & Tina Turner, Nina Simone, and Shirley Bassey. Bill Haley & His Comets played in a benefit concert there in 1955, and The Beatles performed two shows during their historic first trip to the United States to "further international understanding" between the United States and Great Britain, and even hard rock bands such as the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin played there towards the end of the 1960s.

On 31. March, 2016 an all-star tribute concert to David Bowie was held in Carnegie Hall, featuring singers who are stars in their own right presenting their versions of Bowie songs. What better a location for celebrating a legend in music than a legendary piece of architecture that is now celebrated in light.

Project team:

Client: Carnegie Hall and City of New York
Lighting design: Kugler Ning, New York City/US